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Ethics and Heroes
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 08/12/2019

Circleofpeople Another great topic to discuss this month. I will begin with a working definition for ethics.

Definition of ethic
1 ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

2a: a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values the present-day materialistic ethican old-fashioned work ethic—often used in plural but singular or plural in construction an elaborate ethics Christian ethics
b: ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group professional ethics
c: a guiding philosophy
d: a consciousness of moral importance forge a conservation ethic

A word that is so simple in many ways, and yet one that often causes many problems. I am sure that at one time we have all experienced some difficulties in making ethical decisions. In our academies we take an ethics class and ethics is always stressed, yet we continue to have some staff willing to disregard ethics and make bad decisions. Unfortunately, working in the environment that we do, this can often result in severe safety and security concerns. Not only for the inmates but co-workers as well.

Some reasons staff decide to violate ethics may consist of the following and is certainly not limited to just these: Willing to help inmates with some limited financial gains; fear of threats and reprisals; devious and willing to violate departmental policy; made a mistake and the inmate(s) threaten them with exposure; failure to act in an ethical manner may result in potential disciplinary action or arrest depending on seriousness; embarrassment to family and co-workers; disappointment and trust issues, and future credibility. All too often the staff member does not consider the fallout from this action.

Something that has bothered me over the years is when someone I have trusted has violated ethical standards. The staff member can start out with something minor and if they do not change their behavior, they are already on the slippery slope. You and I have a very good idea who may be participating in illegal activities, yet some choose not to get involved. Again, there are reasons for this. I am not willing to compromise my principles, morals, and integrity by allowing this to occur. Even sadder is when supervisors choose to become involved in ethics violations.

Unfortunately, some staff who become involved in ethical violations will often quit without notice, or disciplinary action is taken and attempts are made to cover this up and/or not discuss. When this occurs, administration becomes part of the problem and adds to the lack of trust and confidence concerns. Remember, there are few secrets inside our correctional facilities. This includes the inmate population and uniform and non-uniform staff.

We can talk all day long about professionalism and unless there are consequences and accountability for our actions, we will remain in a downward spiral.

Our other topic this month is heroes and what this represents. Working over the years I have identified admirable traits and negative traits from working with many staff. I try and immolate those positive traits and avoid the negative components. One has to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. This allows us to develop our trust and respect for others. Let’s face the facts, not all can work in a correctional setting. This takes a special person who is dedicated to the profession and works very hard in carrying out their duties with little rewards and recognition.

The job itself is often dangerous and when staff enters the facility for their shift, they also want to walk out that same door at the end of their shift. Recruitment and adequate resources continue to be concerns. Corrections can be a stressful job and often the only support we get is with each other. This means we have to trust and depend on each other. We have enough going on without having to worry if co-workers are ethical and if they are a potential threat to others.

We certainly did not apply for the position expecting to become monetarily rich. Or at least I did not. I thought I could make a difference and accept the many nuances that go along with the job. I worked very hard for each of the positions I held and also established my credibility. Often some staff do not realize the importance of credibility, especially when it relates to federal court. Many incidents are your word against the offender. After you have been to federal court defending your actions, your credibility before the courts is being established. During one particular case, the judge ruled in my favor based on my credibility. This is priceless and something all should strive to accomplish. At the same time, the inmate population and staff are watching you in how you respond to incidents, communicate, problem solve, etc. This also relates to credibility.

Instead of just identifying individual heroes, I feel recognition must be given to the true heroes; you! Each of you makes a decision to enter the facility and perform your job duties to best of your ability. So the challenge for each of you is take time and look at yourself in the mirror. You should like what you see and, if any areas are questionable, recognize what is necessary to change. Each of you is a hero and corrections professional.

Best regards, stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@purdueglobal.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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